Nervous about China, Southeast Asia gets Trump's attention

Nervous about China, Southeast Asia gets Trump's attention

"Multilateral meetings of this sort, we usually expect 100 percent attendance".

On Wednesday Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr, the summit's director-general for operations, told reporters, "As of now, President Trump, for instance, when President Duterte called him up to congratulate him, had already indicated that he is coming in November".

Trump's decision to attend the meetings could come as a surprise to some, given his fiery "America first" rhetoric and his decision to abandon a Pacific trade pact which was the economic plank of the pivot.

Former president Barack Obama, who had championed a "pivot to Asia", was a frequent visitor to the Asia-Pacific as he sought to refocus United States foreign policy on the region to counter growing Chinese influence.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei will visit the Philippines and have bilateral meetings with President Rodrigo Duterte in April. The group's summit and related meetings will be held in Manila next week, the last week of April.

Paynor said Duterte is scheduled to meet Widodo and Bolkiah on April 28 and 29, respectively.

These are among the highlights of the country's chairmanship of the ASEAN.

Paynor said there had been requests from other Asean leaders to have bilateral discussions with the President but stressed that the latter's schedule is "so tight".

"You know, when there is a break, they go and then discuss whatever matters they may wish to bring up with President Duterte".

Paynor said the President is expected to have at least two bilateral meetings on the sidelines.

This vote of confidence was indeed warmly welcomed by ASEAN officials, as the White House had finally given "very positive indications" about U.S. interests in the region, outgoing Indonesian permanent representative to ASEAN Rahmat Pramono said.

"On 29th April which is the actual summit, we will have all 10 [ASEAN] leaders meeting up at the PICC and we'll have a retreat at the Coconut Palace", he added.

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